SILICON VALLEY BUSINESS JOURNAL–It was a record year for funding and acquisitions in drones and robots with Amazon’s unmanned delivery plans and Google’s BigDog robotic buy this month putting an exclamation point on the trend.
It’s still early days, for sure, but VCs hope to cash in on some of the billions in sales of drones and robots projected in coming years, according to a report from CB Insights.
Robot startups attracted more than twice as much money as drone companies did, with funding in the first three quarters alone exceeding investments for all of 2012, the report said.
There have also been more than 23 acquisitions of robot startups, including eight by Google alone including its BigDog deal.
The largest funding deal of the robotics year was the $50 million investment in San Francisco-based Anki by Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz in June. Its Anki Drive car racing game uses self-driving toy cars and was named by Time as one of the 25 best inventions of 2013.
The two other biggest robotics fundings of the year were:
Liquid Robotics, Sunnyvale, raised $45 million in May. Menlo Park private equity firm Riverwood Capital and previous investor VantagePoint Capital put up the funds for the company led by CEO Bill Vass whose ocean robots generate their power from waves and gather data on the seas.
Neato Robotics of Newark, California, raised $14 million in August. The company’s vacuum-cleaning robots compete with the Roomba. It is led by CEO Giacomo Marini and backed by his early-stage venture firm, Noventi, and by Vorwerk Direct Selling Ventures.
About $79 million was invested in 15 drone deals in the first 11 months of 2013, spiking sharply at year’s end and easily surpassing funding in the prior year.
They are focused on an industry which the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International trade group projects to create more than 70,000 jobs over three years in the U.S. beginning in 2015 with an economic impact of more than $13.6 billion.
The biggest drone deal of the year was the $30 million funding in September of 3D Robotics in San Diego, which is led by Wired magazine’s former editor in chief Chris Anderson. The company is targeting agricultural crop mapping and other commercial aerial survey technology and is backed by Foundry Group, True Ventures, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and SK Ventures.
The other two largest drone deals were:
Airware, Newport Beach, raised $10.7 million in May in a round from Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. Y Combinator alumni CEO Jonathan Downey has developed a platform that can be used to control drones. Some of the uses it is already being used for include the prevention of rhino poaching in Kenya, vaccine delivery to remote areas in Africa and Southeast Asia, skier search and rescue, and open air mining operations in France.
CyPhy Works, Danvers, Mass., raised $7 million in November in a round backed by Lux Capital, with participation from General Catalyst Partners, Felicis Ventures and several undisclosed angel investors. CyPhy is led by CEO Helen Greiner, who was also the co-founder robotics innovator iRobot which brought us the Roomba Vacuuming Robot, the PackBot and SUGV Military Robot.